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Sunday, October 12, 2008
My first NASCAR experience was awesome
I am on the interactive marketing team at Nationwide that is tasked with promoting our sponsorship of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. On Friday morning, I headed down to Charlotte to get the full NASCAR experience at the Dollar General 200.

The day started early with a 7:20am flight from Columbus. We arrived at Lowe's Motor Speedway at 10am, just in time for our meeting with the ESPN sales and marketing team. We've been working with ESPN this season and they wanted to pitch some ideas for promoting the Series next season.

At around noon, we hopped in a golf cart and headed to the infield area for lunch at the Nationwide motorcoach. It was interesting to see high-end Prevost motorcoaches right along side homemade ones. My favorite was a school bus painted to look like the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard.

NNS: Nationwide motorcoach

Right after we arrived, several drivers showed up at the motorcoach including Joey Logano, Steve Wallace, Bryan Clauson, Josh Wise and Mike Wallace. I ate lunch with Josh Wise, some folks from the Michael Waltrip Racing (including CMO Terry Bassett) and Mike Wallace who drives for GEICO. We talked a bit about web strategy, smartphones and the sports our kids play.

NNS: Nationwide motorcoach
Josh Wise (in the red shirt) talking to Steve Wallace. Bryan Clauson is hidden over by the door to the motorcoach

After lunch, we headed over the new ZMAX Dragway about a mile from the Lowe's Motor Speedway. It is a state-of-the-art four-lane drag strip.

ZMAX Dragway
View from the hospitality suites

Following the drag strip tour, we headed to the midway area outside of the Lowe's Motor Speedway to check out some of the booths including the Nationwide one (see a 360 video of the booth here). Lots of interesting approaches to getting fans to visit. Sprint had a huge indoor display with all of their phones, interactive games and gifts for Sprint customers. Old Spice had karaoke that they pumped out through loudspeakers. They also gave out free deodorant samples which we saw a couple of people use on the spot.

A little live Queen karaoke courtesy of Old Spice

After checking out all of the vendors and sponsors in the midway, we headed to the ESPN production compound adjacent to Lowe's Motor Speedway. They bring a production bigger than the Super Bowl (over 60 cameras and 120 miles of cabling) to each race. It takes them about 4 days to set up and 1 day to tear down.

NNS: Inside the ESPN production truck

The coolest part of the tour was getting to go inside the ESPN production trailer while they were broadcasting qualifying live. They were only dealing with one car during qualifying. Can't imagine how they handle 30+ cars during the race.

Outside the production area, we ran into former NBA star Brad Daugherty who works with ESPN on their NASCAR coverage. At 7 feet tall, he was pretty easy to spot. He was nice enough to pose for photos with everyone and chat for a few minutes. I stood on a golf cart in the photo below and I still wasn't as tall as Brad.

NNS: Nationwide team with Brad Daugherty

After the ESPN tour, it was time to head to the garage area and check out the cars. Because we had a hot pass, we were able to go pretty much anywhere we wanted in the garage and pits. We saw several drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart.

NNS: Tony Stewart in the garage
Tony Stewart heading back to his garage

The highlight of the garage tour was getting to see all of the Sprint Cup drivers leave their garages and head to the track. The video below doesn't come close to how loud it actually was. Even as a newcomer to NASCAR, this was pretty cool.

Our next stop during the garage tour was heading up to the elevated ESPN studio that is set up at the finish line. It overlooks the pits and, as you would imagine, has an amazing view of the track. There, we ran into our old friend Brad Daugherty who showed us around.

NNS: ESPN studio

NNS: Hanging out in the ESPN studio

After the ESPN studio tour, we watched the Sprint Cup drivers practice from the pits for about 15 minutes, then it was off to the driver's meeting.

NNS: Sprint drivers line up to practice

During the driver's meeting the crew chief for the #28 Border Patrol car was giving Kevin Harvick a hard time about the fight that he and Carl Edwards had gotten into earlier in the week. Eventually, Edwards arrived at the meeting and ended up sitting about 5 seats away from Harvick.

After the driver's meeting, it was time to head to the Nationwide suite for dinner and the race.

NNS: Inside the Nationwide suite

Because 5 of us had a 10:30pm flight back to Columbus, we were only able to catch the first 10 laps or so. And considering that they were under caution twice during the time we were there, we didn't get to see too many full-speed laps. Still, it was pretty cool to see the race from that vantage point.

After landing back in Columbus at around 11:45pm, I ended up getting back to my house just after midnight. It was a long day, but it was definitely worth it.

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.